Imre Kertész was born to a Jewish family in Budapest, Hungary. After his parents László Kertész and Aranka Jakab separated when he was about five years old, he attended a boarding school. In 1944, after Germany invaded his homeland during World War II, he was deported at age 14 with other Hungarian Jews to the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz, and was later sent to Buchenwald. He survived to be liberated by U.S. troops in 1945 and returned to Budapest. He resumed his education and graduated from high school in 1948. Kertész became a journalist and worked for several years for the periodical Világosság (Clarity). After a short time as a factory worker, he was employed by the press department of the Ministry of Heavy Industry. He then became a freelance journalist and translator of German-language authors into Hungarian, including works by Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Elias Canetti.
His most influential novel Fatelessness (written 1960-1973), the first of his Holocaust trilogy, initially was rejected by the Communist censors in Hungary, but finally published in 1975. In was adapted into a film in 2005. Subsequent volumes in the trilogy were The Failure (1988) and Kaddish for an Unborn Child. Having found little appreciation for his writing in Hungary, he divided his time between Budapest and Berlin, where he also was able to make public appearances. He won numerous literary prizes before being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2002.